The Scottish mill that brings 'Boardwalk Empire' to life
Monday 14 February 2011
The small Scottish town of Newmilns may not immediately appear a place of Hollywood dreams, but one of its last remaining mills has a particularly glamorous claim to fame.
Fans of the latest television sensation to cross the Atlantic, Boardwalk Empire, may be too captivated by the seedy gangster violence of prohibition America to spend much time considering the lavish décor. But much of the lacework that provides a backdrop came from the modest Ayrshire firm of Morton Young & Borland Textiles. The £12m series has distinguished itself by seeking out authentic props to reflect 1920s Atlantic City – and that search took the team to Britain, where MYB has provided period fabrics.
It is not the first time that the firm, founded more than a century ago, has achieved celluloid fame. Its lace wallpaper was featured in Sex And The City 2 and it has also provided fabrics for two Harry Potter films, Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland and the forthcoming Bel Ami starring Uma Thurman.
The Ayrshire company, explained its head designer, Margot Graham, was particularly suited to the sets used in Boardwalk Empire: "The fabric coming off our looms now is the same as it would have been in the 1920s so it's very authentic," she said.
Founded in 1900 by Thomas Morton and Alex Young, the company first manufactured Scotch Leno Gauze Weave, more commonly known as Madras, and is now the world's sole producer of the fabric.
A decade later it introduced Nottingham Lace Looms. Over the years it adapted to survive the decline of the lace industry, which saw the number of mills locally decline from 32 to just two. Today it employs 16 weavers on its machine looms.
"What we're doing is unique," Ms Graham told Scotland on Sunday. "All of our manufacturing and the other fabrics we produce are unlike anything else out there." One of its four divisions, MYB Screen specialises in wide flame retardant fabrics – produced on its 12-metre wide 100 year-old Nottingham looms – for the theatre and film markets.
The HBO production, starring Steve Buscemi and Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald, prides itself on its authenticity. Among the textiles MYB supplied were Griffin, from its Scottish lace pattern archive, and Meadow Lily, based on a design found at the Victoria & Albert museum in London.
Ms Graham said she had spotted their lacework in both a casino and an office in the first episode. "We always try to reinvent a design and our patterns to make them more up-to-date, while preserving tradition," she said.
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